The future is bright

March 10 2008 / by Eriks Brolis / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 18

‘I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.’ Thomas Edison made that strong proclamation to Henry Ford in 1931. Edison’s confidence most likely stemmed from the fact that our sun is responsible for the propagation of life in addition to the vast majority of available energy on earth. (The most notable sub-surface exceptions being the energy potential of nuclear and geothermal which each come with their slew of challenges)

Wind is a “by-product” of the sun, created by the diurnal (day & night) effect of warming and cooling. Fossil fuels are simply what their name suggests – the fossilized remains of living organisms. Coal was the flora that photosynthesized the sun’s power; oil, natural gas, tar sands (collectively petrochemicals) the fauna. In short, the sun is responsible for the life and lifestyles here on earth both directly and indirectly.

If you believe that humans will be most effective by mimicking universal biological patterns and are already “regressing” in that direction (as I strongly do) this begs the question…What is the most direct way to sustainably harness the power of the sun? I assert that the two means that are most effective are (i) passive solar design and (ii) photovoltaic electricity production.

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Teenager Gets Fried in Electro-suit

April 02 2008 / by Cronos / In association with Future
Category: Economics   Year: 2015   Rating: 9

This Future Fiction piece was cross-posted from the blog Future Feeds.

TechnoTraveller, the Tokyo company that was making furor on the stock markets for the last months has recalled all of its 12 million Electro-suits after a teenager was found dead in a Tokyo park. The unfortunate youngster’s solar electro-suit, while powering his laptop, cell phone, iZune and Thermo-sweater malfunctioned and directed all the sun-powered energy to the Thermo-sweater. Built-in feedback systems that should have prevented such an event did not work appropriately and the Thermo-sweater function will from now on be disabled in the product, a TechnoTraveller spokesperson declared in a company press bulletin.

The company’s hot selling item was the driving force behind TechnoTraveller’s dethroning of Google as Wall Street’s darling finding a need for cheap power on the road to fuel all electronic portable devices and warming people in cold climates by using high-efficient solar fuel cells weaved into a suit. TechnoTraveller stocks plummeted by more than 55%. The press bulletin further stated that although the recall will decrease profits and losing the Thermo-sweater feature will impact sales, there is no need for panic by shareholders and the future of solar clothing is still looking bright. The Tokyo coroner performing the autopsy is still trying to establish whether the cause of death was sixth-degree burns or electrocution.

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Don't be Evil, be Green: Google's Cleantech Movement

October 10 2008 / by jvarden / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 9 Hot

By Jenna Varden

“It’s just a math problem.” – Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Google is thinking big, again! The company that was founded to ‘organize all the world’s information’ is now focusing its attention on energy. Google’s Cleantech Movement plans to “eliminate all utility fossil fuel dependence and 50 percent of automobile fossil fuel dependence by 2030.”
So far, the company has already invested $45M in wind, solar, and geothermal energy, with tidal and wave power as next in line. This will not only save consumers and America money, one of Google’s motivations, it will also protect the Earth’s environment, reason number two, which is “all part of not being evil (Source: Stefanie Olsen/CNET). In other words, not only is funding alternative energy helpful for its monetary benefits, it helps the environment and gives Google a positive image in the public eye. It will also benefit Google’s energy guzzling servers, whose life-force is the precious commodity of electricity, thus saving the company money.

Schmidt believes that better energy efficiency will lead to more savings. And moving from fossil fuels to renewable, alternative energies will also cost less in the long-term. As an example, while it may indeed cost a hefty amount to make the switch, once in place, the ‘U.S. would save 97% of $2.17 trillion in energy spending over the next 22 years.’ Google’s renovation of its own buildings to cut carbon emissions, installed solar and power monitoring equipment, and is already saving money each year. Restructuring the U.S. power grid, currently with a 9 percent efficiency loss, could also make the country’s energy more efficient and thus, save more money.

Are Computer Servers 21st century ‘energy guzzlers’?

While Google should be lauded for its progressive view on energy efficiency, it also has an intrinsic self-interest in cheap electricity. Google’s new server farm to be built on the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon, called The Dalles data center, will need an estimated 103 megawatts of electricity to run, ‘enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington – via Roughtype

While The Dalles center will not be up and running until 2011, Google’s multitude of other server farms also require large amounts of electricity. Cheaper electricity will allow Google to save money powering their farms, as well as allow further expansion.

What is behind Google’s real motivations? Not being Evil, or Green is Good

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Super-Insulated Glass To Supply Heat

March 25 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2009   Rating: 8

Guardian Industries, an architectural and automotive glass manufacturer, recently unveiled a new prototype glass product that could provide some big energy gains when integrated into the homebuilding process. The windows of your house may soon actually supply energy via passive solar gains instead of leak it.

The vacuum-insulated glass (VIG) panel consists of two glass panes, one of which is covered in low-e coating. When vacuum sealed together, the panel effectively eliminates both convection and conduction of heat. The most impressive aspect of the product is its potential level of insulation (or R-value). The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. Most low-e glass comes in between R-2 and R-4, but this revolutionary glass promises a whopping R-12 to R-15 rating – the equivalent insulation of your home’s exterior walls.

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Future iPhones Will Be Solar-Powered

May 27 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

I’m already big on the future of the iPhone, particularly its potential for underdeveloped regions like the African continent, so Apple’s latest patent filing for a solar-powered iPhone only serves to further my belief that the device will not only go big, but also spread very broadly.

According to Mac Rumours who first discovered the patent application:

The most interesting technique described by Apple … is the integration of the solar panels behind the actual LCD screen of a portable device. The solar panel would absorb ambient light that passes through the LCD screen of the device. ... If successfully implemented, Apple’s iPhone, iPod and laptops, could require no outward changes in design to add solar power.

As the price of both iPhone components and photovoltaic (PV) cells comes down steadily, this will add to the appeal of the increasingly coveted device, especially in resource-strapped areas as rising oil prices gradually push up the cost of manufacturing, transportation and electricity.

Adding solar cells beneath LCD screens is such an elegant no-brainer that it’s difficult to imagine a period in the near future when all mobile phones/computers aren’t forced to integrate solar. The main plausible alternative I can see is the prevalence of small plug-in PV power stations (either based at home, mounted on the car or worn) that can directly or indirectly charge mobile devices. But even then, just knowing that your device can charge autonomously still seems quite desirable.

In what year will a solar-powered iPhone hit the market?

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Energy startups see plenty of room for innovation at the bottom

July 28 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Garry Golden

What makes QuantumSphere and A123Systems two of the most innovative energy companies in the world?

Because they are investing in the future design of catalysts! And their strategy is to innovate at the nanoscale.

The Beginning of Nano

Physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with launching the ‘nanoscale’ era of engineering with his famous lecture ‘Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ at Caltech in 1959. Feynman described our future ability to manipulate individual atoms and eventually create complex mechanical structures made of the fundamental molecules.

Fifty years after Feynman’s lecture, researchers and startups are making significant progress in designing nanoscale structured materials that will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the energy industry from production, to storage to end use delivery.

What is disruptive about catalysts?

Simply put, catalysts help us get more output with less energy input. Catalysts speed up the reaction of photo-, chemical and electrochemical changes in everything from batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells, to the refining of coal, gasoline, diesel, and natural gas, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. Catalysts also help to reduce the energy required to create plastics, biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.

The rules of the energy industry game are being re-written by companies designing synthetic metal and carbon-based catalysts that change our notions of what is possible in the years ahead. Other companies are attempting to harness, or mimic, naturally occurring bio-catalysts that gracefully manipulate energy in all living things from algae/bacteria to plants to human beings.

Catalysts are the silent work horses of our modern world but you seldom, if ever, hear or see the word mentioned in mainstream conversations about energy. Yet they hold the key to unlocking human potential without draining the planet’s resources. Catalysts can help realize the vision of a world powered by cheap, abundant, clean energy. (Continued)

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5 Videos on the Future of Thin film Solar

October 06 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: 2014   Rating: 8 Hot

What if we could print low cost solar panels on pieces of plastic and integrate this energy collecting material into buildings, infrastructure and product casings?

This is the future of thin film solar.

While traditional (rigid silicon substrate) solar panels are a relatively mature platform, we have not yet hit our stride in advancing the efficiencies of thin film solar.

Thin-film, or organic solar is attractive because it is low cost, flexible and can be integrated into existing materials and products. These systems can also be designed to tap broader sections of the light spectrum. Relatively low efficiencies mean that thin film solar will never be capable of providing a majority of our energy needs, but it is certainly part of a broader strategy of new distributed power generation.

Before we start asking when we might see thin film on the shelves at Home Depot or integrated into familiar product designs, the first step is to understand why thin film is different from traditional solar.

The following five video clips help to describe the future potential of thin film solar.

Nanosolar (Palo Alto-San Jose, CA) has long been considered a leading innovator in the field of organic photovoltaics or thin film solar.

Continue with next four videos…

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The world's first LEED Platinum hotel

October 09 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

In recent years forward-looking architects and designers have been pushing out the leading edge of advanced energy systems for built environments. Along the way they have created a new marketplace for integrated energy solutions with lower costs and improved performance. Their efforts have been supported by the growing list of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings.

On Tuesday, Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, NC, became the first hotel to be awarded the LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is the USGBC’s rating system for designing and constructing the world’s greenest, most energy efficient, and high performing buildings.

Opened in late 2007, the Proximity (videos) was designed to use 40% less energy and 30% less water than comparable hotels. It along with the adjacent Print Works Bistro are the first hotel and first restaurant to obtain the USGBC’s top level certification.

“When we started the design process four years ago, I would have never believed that we could use 41% less energy and 33% less water without one iota of compromise in comfort or luxury and with minimal additional construction costs,” says Dennis Quaintance, the CEO and CDO (Chief Design Officer) of builder Quaintance-Weaver “It just goes to show what a determined team can accomplish if they use common sense and get a little bit of help from the sun.”

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Another US startup producing thin film solar panels used for rooftops

December 01 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2011   Rating: 8 Hot

Leslie Science CenterThe US manufacturing base appears to be more than capable of expanding production of a very promising form of solar technology that can be integrated into building materials like rooftops.

Thin film solar (right side of roof image) based on plastic material foundations are less efficient than traditional glass-based photovoltaic panels (leftside of image), but they are much cheaper and more durable. By layering, or ‘printing’, thin film solar modules into common building and rooftop materials we can generate solar power onsite even on cloudy days. 

While large utilities look to solar thermal and traditional glass based solar panels to produce large amounts of electricity, building designers and consumers are waiting for plastic based thin film solar that can be integrated into rooftops without the risk (and design issues) associated with fragile and bulky glass units.

We have covered a number of stories (below) on thin film solar startups in the US who are building megawatt scale thin film production plants in the next 18 months.

Now EPV SOLAR has announced that its new 30,000 square foot, 20 MW production facility in Robbinsville, NJ, is producing and shipping production quantities of its thin-film amorphous silicon solar modules. EPV already operates a 30 MW plant in Senftenberg, Germany. 

The next step for thin film producers will be to expand partnerships with building materials and construction firms able to get products to market.  Last month Michigan-based ECD Ovonic solar subsidiary Uni-Solar has signed a multi-year agreement with an Italian steel and metal materials company to build solar rooftop materials used in onsite power generation. Marcegaglia expects to introduce the low cost, durable thin film.  

While it is too early to expect thin film solar panels on the shelves of Home Depot and Lowes, that day might be much closer than you think!

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Here comes the solar rooftop! ECD Ovonics expanding partnerships for thin film solar

November 10 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2010   Rating: 7 Hot

What happened?
Michigan-based ECD Ovonic solar subsidiary Uni-Solar has signed a multi-year agreement with an Italian steel and metal materials company to build solar rooftop materials used in onsite power generation. Marcegaglia expects to introduce the low cost, durable thin film solar metal roofing products to the market in 2010. [Image shown from Spain factory installation]

Why is this important to the future of energy?
Energy entrepreneurs are thinking beyond power generation via large, expensive centralized power plants. The alternative is expanding the world’s capacity for ‘distributed power generation’ based on low cost solar, micro-wind, fuel cells, and micro turbines. These systems could soon provide a small percentage of power generation, but enough to reduce demand on power plants during ‘peak power demand’ periods, and lower our threat of grid failure by storing and producing energy at the local level. Why not tap square footage of rooftops?

Thin film solar based on plastic substrates are less efficient than traditional glass-based photovoltaic panels, but they are much cheaper and more durable. By layering, or ‘printing’, thin film solar modules onto rooftop materials we can bring solar power to buildings around the world at a low cost.

What to watch

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Global Weirding: A Solar Company Makes An Unsuccessful Bid for an Auto Company

November 26 2008 / by joelg / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 7 Hot

By Joel Greenberg

What Happened?

Call it a man bites dog story for the clean energy era. German solar cell manufacturer SolarWorld recently made a bid for Opel, GM’s European car company.

Not that Opel was for sale. But it does show that at least one solar manufacturer is looking for a way to make a solar powered car.

What This Means for the Future of Energy

SolarWorld Chairman Frank H. Asbeck insists the offer is in good faith. SolarWorld is betting that GM is in bad enough shape that they’d have to sell off assets, such as European brands, making an easier entry into the automotive market for SolarWorld than having to create a car company from scratch.

More importantly, it shows that the electric vehicle market is up for grabs. SolarWorld wanted to buy a car manufacturer so that they could get a leg up on bringing an electric vehicle to market; then, they could sell the solar panels that could be used to charge it up. One solar installer consulted for the reality of solar panels powering an electric vehicle quoted an installation costing $12,000 to $15,000 to be adequate to charge up a typical electric vehicle.

Could this be a signal that cleantech could lead the way in many business deals in the future? What’s next, a bid from First Solar for Chrysler?

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MIT Introduces New Windows That Harness Solar

July 18 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

Lucky for us the sun is a wonderful source of clean energy. Its rays can be harnessed and transformed into electricity using semi-conductor-based solar cells that power homes, buildings, and even transportation. Researchers have spent decades trying to refine this process.

Recently, MIT researchers have made a significant mark in this endeavor. Associate Professor Marc A. Baldo, leader of the project, and a team of four graduate students of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, have constructed a cost-efficient solar concentrator device based on a failed 1970s model that uses glass and dye. In practical terms, the concentrator device is a high-efficiency window.

Currently, solar concentrators on the market track the sun’s rays using large mobile mirrors that are both expensive to arrange and to maintain. Furthermore, Baldo explains, the solar cells that house these concentrators must be cooled, thus the entire assembly wastes space.

Baldo’s new solar concentrator increases the amount of usable energy by a factor of 40, all while cutting costs by reducing the amount of solar cell, which because its base is silicon is rather expensive.

The device consists of glass coated with a mixture of relatively inexpensive dyes that absorbs the light and re-emits it on a new wavelength into the glass to be collected by the solar cells, which are located on the edges of the glass.

Baldo says the 1970s model failed in two ways: the collected light was absorbed before it reached the edges of the glass and the dyes were unstable.

Using optical techniques developed for lasers and other diodes, the MIT engineers found the perfect ratio of dyes that would allow the light that is absorbed and emitted to travel a longer distance before reaching the solar cells. (cont.)

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